"This is unlike what we have seen before," William Carwile, FEMA's former top responder in Mississippi, said in a Sept. 1 e-mail to officials at the agency's headquarters. He was describing difficulties in getting body bags and refrigerated trucks to Hancock County, Miss., which was badly damaged by the storm.
Carwile wrote that he personally authorized Hancock County to buy refrigeration trucks because "the coroner was going to have to start putting bodies out in the parking lot."
The next day, in another e-mail to headquarters about substandard levels of food, water and ice being distributed in Mississippi, Carwile reported, "System appears broken."
In a Sept. 1 exchange, FEMA regional response official Robert Fenton warned headquarters that the expected levels of water and ice being sent were far below what was needed.
"If we get the quantities in your report tomorrow we will have serious riots," Fenton wrote.
Responding, Carwile wrote: "Turns out this report is true. ... There seems to be no way we will get commodities in amounts beyond those indicated below. And it turns out these shortfalls were known much earlier in the day and we were not informed.
"Will need big time law enforcement reinforcements tomorrow," Carwile's e-mail continued. "All our good will here in MS will be very seriously impacted by noon tomorrow. Have been holding it together as it is."
According to the article, these e-mail exchanges were uncovered by the House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, which is investigating the government's response to Katrina. These revelations, along with similar revelations in the 100,000 pages of documents Louisiana Gov. Blanco turned over to the committee last week, seem to confirm that the government response at all levels was, well, a disaster.
But here's something just as disturbing and disappointing, to me anyway. I went to look at the House Government Reform Committee website to see if there was any more detail about the investigation.
As I write this, Katrina is not mentioned on the Government Reform Committee's front page. The top two headline stories are about the urgent "steroids in sports" investigation, one is Chairman Tom Davis' statement on the "President's pandemic flu strategy" (a "welcomed and positive step towards addressing this threat" according to Davis), another big news item about "historic legislation" authorizing a $1.5 billion upgrade to the D.C. Metro transportation system (which Davis sponsored), and so on. The words "FEMA", "Katrina", "emergency", and "response" do not appear anywhere on the front page of the Committee's website. I'm surprised, though, that there is no mention of our manned mission to Mars or Laura Bush's anti-gang program.
So what does this say about our priorities, or how seriously anyone is taking any kind of investigation into real reforms that might improve disaster preparedness and response at all levels of government?